Local schools are superior to cyber

Are brick-and-mortar schools on the way out to be replaced by cyber schools?

This was a theme in Sen. John Eichelberger’s recent town hall meeting. Some in attendance argued online learning is superior to the face-to-face learning in our local schools.

Like many things in life, the reality is quite different from our assumptions.

Just a quick glance at the Pa. Performance Profile will show the abysmal performance of cyber charters compared to our local schools.

And that bad performance comes on top of cyber schools already having kids who are easier to educate. They enroll fewer kids in poverty or with special education needs.

“Ah, but cyber schools enroll kids who are already behind, and that is why the scores are so low,” claim proponents.

This is not the reason for the low score. The Pa. score is based on growth of a student. Growth scores show how a student has improved rather than relying only on a set score.

If students come in behind, there is more potential for growth. If cyber schools were educating primarily students who came in behind, the scores would be higher and not lower as they actually are.

In fact, a recent study by CREDO, normally a charter advocate group, found that students attending cyber schools, on average, had zero gains in math, meaning it was as if they had not even attended school at all.

And this is only one of many studies showing the ineffectiveness of cyber education.

“But at traditional schools, it is hard to get in touch with a teacher” is another misconception.

In reality, human teachers are accessible via traditional phone calls, teacher conferences, email, Google docs, Remind apps, etc. And, of course, a local school has a fixed address where a concerned parent can just show up at the school.

Good luck having a one-on-one conversation with a cyber teacher who is teaching 1,000 clients, none of which they have ever met. Would that teacher even know your child by name, or be able to offer meaningful help or accommodations?

“But traditional schools are the same as they were 100 years ago, and they are a one-size-fits all model,” they argue.

If you believe that, then you have not been paying attention to schools for decades.

Students in your local schools are producing an extensive daily online newspaper, designing environmental remediation projects, using AutoCAD, writing computer code, and conducting scientific research and taking courses for college credit.

Online programs are great for ordering pizza, checking your bank balance and programming your dish to record a program.

Learning, however, is far too complex and nuanced to be treated like a fast food order.

Alice Flarend


(The writer is a nationally board-certified physics teacher.)